What Does PRN Shift Mean?

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Written by Morganne Skinner, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Ayana Dunn, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
African-American male nurse who is working PRN shift.

Most people are familiar with part-time and full-time work schedules. But what about PRN?

If you’ve spent much time in the medical sphere, you’ve likely wondered — What is PRN in medical terms? Maybe you’ve come across per diem or PRN shifts as you apply for nursing jobs. Or, perhaps this is the first time you’ve ever heard of the medical abbreviation PRN.

If this is you, don’t worry. Wondering, What does PRN shift mean?, is a common question among new nurses. We’ll explain what it is, how PRN scheduling works, and some pros and cons to consider.

What Does PRN Mean in Medical Terms?

The first step to understanding this term is to get a clear PRN definition. PRN refers to the latin phrase “pro re nata,” meaning “as needed.”

If you’ve ever seen PRN on the label of a prescription, you’ve probably wondered, What does PRN mean in medication terms? This simply indicates that, in most situations, the medication can be administered on an as-needed basis.

What Are PRN Nursing Shifts?

This as-needed medical abbreviation can also apply to PRN nurse shifts. These types of shifts are also called float pool nursing.

PRN nursing shifts are flexible and have limited scheduling requirements. These shifts are normally the last pick of the draw, so to speak. First, shifts are offered to full-time and part-time nurses. PRN staff then fill in the holes to complete staffing for the unit.

What Does Working PRN Mean?

In light of this PRN medical abbreviation definition, working PRN means that you are not a part-time or full-time employee. You are not a contract or travel nurse either. You work for the facility but don’t have the typical shift requirements that part-time or full-time staff do. You also don’t receive the benefits that they do.

For example, a full-time nurse might be required to work three 12-hour shifts per week. A PRN nurse may be required to work as little as four shifts every six weeks.

PRN vs. Contract Nursing

What does PRN shift mean compared to contract nursing shifts? A temporary or contract nurse is usually hired at full-time or part-time status, and may be required to work two to three 12-hour shifts per week. As opposed to permanent staff, these staff have a set end-date planned and are only hired for that timeframe.

A PRN nurse works when they want, so there is no set end-date. Additionally, they do not have strict weekly shift requirements.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Working PRN?

What does this PRN medical abbreviation, focused on as-needed healthcare professionals, mean for nurses seeking employment? Like with any job and work schedule, there are benefits and drawbacks.

Pros of Working PRN

Let’s start with the positive and go over the pros first.


As you may have guessed, a major pro to working PRN is the flexible work schedule you can have. There is no set work schedule — you get to choose to work when you want.

This flexibility goes both ways: You can choose to work as little or as much as you want. Meaning, while your shift requirements may be working a minimum of four shifts per scheduling period, you are not prohibited from picking up more than four shifts. This allows your income to flux according to your current needs.

Higher Pay

Many PRN employees have the opportunity to earn more than full-time staff, yet they work fewer hours. Not fair, right? This pro is offset by the con you’ll read about — PRN employees do not get offered typical benefits, which is compensated by higher income.

Numbers-wise, what does this translate to? We’re glad you asked. The average salary for an RN is $37.31 per hour. Comparatively, a nurse working PRN can make up to $100 an hour, as you can see when searching for these types of nursing jobs on IntelyCare. The exact pay will vary based on location and specialty, but generally speaking, PRN nurses will make considerably more money than full-time or part-time nurses.

Work-Life Balance

Is Christmas coming up and you’re dreading missing seeing your children open presents? Or are you bummed that you have to miss out on so many family and social gatherings around the holidays? Great news — PRN nurses are not usually required to work holidays.

You really can get the best of both worlds while working PRN. You can travel, have a side gig, be a stay-at-home parent (avoiding daycare), volunteer at your favorite organization, and work in a profession you are passionate about.

Cons of Working PRN

When exploring, What does PRN shift mean?, it can also be helpful to consider the less favorable aspects.

Lacks Benefits

This is the biggest drawback — you don’t get typical benefits working PRN. Meaning, medical insurance, sick days, paid time off (PTO), and retirement plans are not typically included as they are with full-time nursing jobs. On rare occasions, some facilities will allow PRN nurses who have worked with them for a set amount of time to receive vacation days. But that is the exception, not the norm.

Lack of Consistency

When you work PRN, you may not be asked to work in the same unit every shift or be guaranteed hours. For example, you could show up for work on Monday from 0700–1900, but could be sent home at 1200 if the census changes.

This can make it challenging for those who are relying on their job for the primary source of income. The instability of work hours can make it difficult to budget appropriately, adding in an element of risk. This is offset by the higher pay granted to PRN nurses.

Lack of Shift Selection

PRN nurses usually get last pick for scheduling their shifts. Depending on where you work, this could mean all you have available are weekend shifts or Tuesday nights. This can be an inconvenience if you have other obligations or events you’d like to attend. However, the overall flexibility of the job usually outshines this con.

How Does PRN Scheduling Work?

Each facility will have their own unique way of setting up their nursing staff schedule. In general, the full-time and part-time staff will choose their work days and then the schedule will become “open” for PRN staff to sign up.

Other times, you may be placed on a call list and receive a phone call asking you to come in to work. This could be the day before or day of, depending on need.

Example Schedule

What does PRN shift mean and look like in reality? Here’s an example.

Let’s say you are working PRN and are required to work four shifts per scheduling period, which is every six weeks. You could:

  • Work Saturday–Tuesday, get all four shifts done, and be off work the remainder of that six week pay period.
  • Work one day per week for four weeks, then have two weeks off.
  • Work two days at the beginning of the pay period and two days at the end of the pay period, having over a month off.

Ready to Work With More Flexibility?

You’ve asked, What does PRN shift mean?, and we’ve explained the meaning of the PRN medical abbreviation as it relates to staffing. Does all of this talk about choosing your work schedule get you excited? Discover flexible jobs near you on IntelyCare and apply today.